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Kadri in the middle—I used to assume that would be the case…

While things have been pretty quiet in Leafland (not unexpectedly) the last couple of weeks, it’s been interesting to witness the discussions (some even within the organization) about how the Leafs might fill the much-talked-about “first line” center spot this coming season. (This assumes we will have a season, depending on the fruitfulness of ongoing labour talks…)

Of course, there is still plenty of time for a trade. As I mentioned yesterday, I don't doubt Burke and company will be burning up the phone lines talking with rival GM’s (what team doesn’t want to try and get better…).  That said, precisely what they might do, if anything, is up for grabs.  Mostly, our uncertainty in that regard has to do with what would have to go the other way in any big deal.  By that I essentially mean that it has become (seemingly) clear that Burke is intent on building with young players.  He will add the right kind of veteran, to be sure, but he does not, it seems, want to part with many/any of the young prospect stable he has built up with a certain amount of zeal the past few years.

So while a “big trade” is  always a part of the organizational discussions and possibilities, “plan B” is no doubt filling the aforementioned first-line center position void internally.  It would appear that van Riemsdyk is a possibility, given the public chatter from Carlyle a couple of weeks. (Though, I should throw in here that this is a summertime hobby for a lot of organizations.  They talk out loud about roster juggling and various possibilities. It throws fans off the scent.  They ‘blue-sky’ about all kinds of things that could happen at training camp.) But I do think it is entirely possible van Riemsdyk is a strong consideration.  The feeling within the organization is no doubt: if it works, great.  If the experiment does not last, van Riemsdyk will go back to playing the wing, and then we’ll hear the usual quotes from him about how he loved playing center, wanted to help the team, but is, naturally, more comfortable on the wing, etc..

They can still make Grabovski the first-line center, I suppose. While I’m not sure he will ever really be that, he has been—at times over the past two seasons—pretty close to a “1A”.  So it’s not quite as big a stretch as we might think.  I’m not certain we would want to go into a playoff matchup against a team that is really tough down the middle with Grabbo as our lead guy, but there is plenty of time before the Leafs (and we) have to worry about that.

Burke has also opined that Bozak can still fill the role, and the young forward does sometimes inspire hope that, given his strong skating and his his ability to see the ice, he may well continue his development as a relative late-bloomer.  But while I like Bozak as a player, I’m not sure I see him fitting a first-line slot just now, if ever.

This brings me to my thought of the day, which may now seem as though I’m simply playing off what the mainstream media has said of late.  That is, giving young Nazem Kadri a legitimate shot at being a front-line (at least second line, if indeed Grabovski was the de facto number-one) center with the blue and white.

The funny thing is, I always thought Kadri playing in the middle was the plan when the Leafs drafted him. Set aside for the moment the up and down yo-yo string they’ve had him on the past two seasons.  I never really envisioned how this has actually played out;  that is, his playing on the wing.  I pictured him from the get-go as a center.  (Those of you who watched him develop as a junior, did he not play a lot of center under Hunter with the Knights in London? I wasn’t close to that situation so I may be off on this one.)

In any event, I honestly figured him as a center.  Now, he certainly has puck skills and vision.  His foot speed is OK at the NHL level, I guess.  Has his quickness improved?  He is working out with Gary Roberts this summer, and that seems to make a difference for just about every young player who takes advantage of that opportunity.

As I’ve often mentioned here before, I wish the Leafs had not, in a panic, turned to Kadri in the fall of 2010 as a guy they thought would help them score goals.  I think it hampered his development, and I’m glad he spent most of this past season where he should have been all the year before.  Playing in the AHL has rarely, if ever, hurt a young player, in my memory.  He has certainly had good coaching as best we can tell from Dallas Eakins and his staff, so you have to think that, after two years as a professional and a summer of intense work with Roberts behind him, the young man will be as ready as he will ever be to crack the Leaf line-up in September.

The question, guaranteed contracts aside, is this:  where does Kadri fit?  Is he a winger, or is he in fact best utilized as a center?  The need we have right now is in the middle.  (If we're honest, we have needs everywhere, but you know what I mean...)  When there was first talk of Kadri making the big roster, much of the organizational chatter had to do with things like, he has to get “bigger and faster” and he has to cut down on his turnovers.  While those things are  always important, I’ve also been anxious to see what he could do if he was simply allowed to play without worrying about every step and every little mistake. 

The other comment about him was that he had to be a “top-six” guy if he was going to fit here.  Yet, he was bounced all over the line-up when he has been up with the big team the past two years, so I don't even know what the brass really thinks at this point.  But I assume (if he is not traded as part of a package to get a more NHL-ready center or defenseman/goalie in the next few weeks…and I firmly believe his name has been offered in several trade discussions over the past year) he is part of the “plan” and he will be a top-six player with the Leafs this coming season.

Do I think he can be a first-line center right now?  I really don’t know.  The young guy has skill, and says all the right things, but I haven’t been blown away yet.  Oh, yes, he has certainly made some neat, eye-catching moves every once in a while, but I’m talking about being the kind of player that a coach can look down the bench and, in a tight situation, think to himself, “that’s one of the guys I’m comfortable sending out there right now…”.  It may be unrealistic to expect that of him just yet, but the Leafs need guys who can be that player now.

So the jury is still out for me, but I guess what I’m saying is, if he gets a shot at being a front-line center with the big club at training camp, it wouldn't surprise me. I thought this is where we were headed when we drafted him three years ago…..


  1. I started to comment on your previous post but then noticed the Kadri post so I decided to combine my opinions to embrace both of them.

    As you may remember, I am an advocate of developing home grown talent. I believe that many of the ills that plagued the Leafs last year can be remedied internally.

    Last season The Leafs were 10th in the NHL in goals scored and 29th in goals allowed with a differential of -32 goals. They were 9th in power play % and 28th in penalty kill %. Clearly defence was the major problem.

    I don't think you can lay all the blame on goaltending. Certainly Reimer's injury was a major setback. Now that he is healthy I believe he will be the goalie we saw in 2011. Trading for Luongo would be a mistake in my opinion. It would bring an albatross contract and a loss of assets including one of our young goaltenders. Also I can't get Luongo's playoff meltdowns out of my mind. Scrivens was the best goalie in the AHL last year and should be a solid backup. I can't see Bernier as a significant upgrade. Isn't the major point on his resume that he was the best goalie in the AHL a couple of years ago?

    I believe that the transition from Wilson's run and gun to Carlyle's more defensively oriented system will make a world of difference. As a case in point, the Kings were struggling and out of a playoff position when Darryl Sutter took over. He put in his system, stressing puck movement out of the defensive zone and a relentless forecheck in the offensive zone and the rest is history.

    There are several players who spent time with the Marlies last season who I believe will be very good NHLers. Before his wrist injury Joe Colborne was lighting up the AHL. He is a big bodied centre who could very well be a top line player. Matt Frattin has the drive and skill to be a second or third line forward. Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker have the skills to play defence in the NHL.

    That brings me to Nazim Kadri. I am very encouraged that he took it upon himself to work with Gary Roberts this summer. In the past he has been held back by lack of strength and maturity. Roberts will help him with both. He has the skills to be a premier center on the Leafs. I too have been puzzled by his usage but hopefully he will be kept at his natural position and allowed to thrive.

    Wouldn't it be ironic if the answer to the Leafs great need at centre is a player already in the system.

  2. I might be a little out of my depth here, not knowing of Kadri's history as a junior, but I've always thought of him as a winger. He just doesn't seem big enough to be a top centre. (For what it's worth, Yahoo lists him as a C and CapGeek as a LW - go figure).

    I am privately hoping, like you, that this year they just let the kid play, but for me that would be best situated on our third line, at left wing with Frattin on his right and God knows who in the middle (Connolly? McClement? Colborne? Bozak?).

    As one can tell from the parentheses above, we already seem to have a glut of half-assed and/or under-performing Centres. I'd much rather see Kadri make his mark on the left on a young line with little in the way of defense expected from them.

  3. Summed up my feelings exactly. I figured this guy as a centre from day one. Can't figure out why he is being forced over to the wing. I don't see him being big enough to survive at the wing in the NHL.

    I pictured him as a creative play-making type that you would pair with a power forward (like JVR) or a scoring winger (like Kessel)

    Reminds me of when they put Wellwood on Sundin's wing. I was thinking geez that little guy has to go dig the puck out of the corner for a player twice his size? Should be the other way around.

  4. I well remember your earlier posts about the need for the Leafs to develop from within, PeteCam.

    Your thoughts on Reimer/Luongo and Wilson/Carlyle are quite valid, to me. I have the same reservations as you about Luongo, and believe Reimer can be Reimer. I want to believe that Carlyle will shape the Leafs structure, while still allowing for some creative offensive play.

    This should be Kadri's time. We'll find out this season!

    Thanks PeteCam. Good stuff as always.

  5. KiwiLeaf, your comments probably help demonstrate that you and I are not alone- a lot of us are wondering exactly what Kadri really is, or should be!

    I think he can play, but I'd love to see him be allowed to just "play" without the obsession over his every mistake. As I often say, you can't play with a piano on your back all the time.

  6. Wellwood is an interesting comparison, The Meatriarchy. Creative little guy with a good stick. I may be wrong, I just have always figured Kadri as a centre. We'll see.....

  7. Kadri will start the season in the AHL barring injury to a veteran. The reason given will be attitude or turnovers but the reality is that it will be waivers as Burke does not want to lose assets to waiver wire. That said, Kadri will make it up to the leafs near the trade deadline.

  8. Not sure why down the line we can't eventually have a 1A/1B situation consisting of Grabovski and Colborne/Kadri. Anthony Petrielli had a great write up at MLHS about Carlyle's tendency to line match and what not, and brought up a great point about Grabovski being a minute-munching, shutdown center who puts up points (hence, being a bargain at $5.5 million). Then you have your other purely offensive, perhaps even sheltered line centered by Kadri/Colborne. Energy/checking line centered by McClement, fourth line Steckel. That's how I see it working out best.

  9. We all pretty much have to admit that Leafs lack size down the middle (with the exception of Steckel, LOL). Bozak has a ton of skill and playmaking ability, but lacks size. Bozak also tends to get too offensive-minded and forgets about his defensive responsibilities. Thats a big problem when playing with Kessel and Lupul who both love offense and often get caught deep in the offensive zone.

    Grabovski at least is responsible at both ends of the rink. As for being a #1 or #1A, he also lacks the size, but his wildly-creative offensive style is not conducive to being a true play-making center. Kessel and Lupul would be so confused trying to play with Grabo I think.

    Using JVR at center is a huge experiment. It could work, but I rather doubt it will. Having not played the center position for some time, and especially not at the NHL level, really leaves him at a disadvantage. Lacking any trade, there is no harm giving JVR a shot at center during training camp (assuming a new CBA allows for a normal training camp).

    As for Kadri, he can certainly play center or wing. The idea of having him at wing means less stress for him to be defensively responsible. Mind you his time with the Marlies under Eakins supervision may have corrected that weakness. I like that Kadri is working out with Roberts and he could be a nsatier, tougher player this year. Enough to be a #1C, I'm not sure. He's a bit more creative than Bozak, and probably tougher in the corners and on the puck. Like Bozak he lacks size and quite probably has some of the same defensive-absentmindness. In addition, Kadri doesn't have the greatest faceoff skills as yet.

    One important name you didn't mention was Colborne. Here's a kid with size, and is starting to learn how to use it. He even admits he is still growing (a half inch last year), and is putting on weight and filling out. He has been concentrating on his defensive game and puck control in both zones. As we know he had an injury last year that hampered his season and limited his shooting and playmaking skills. IMO Colborne is the kid who could make the biggest impact at center this year. I'm not saying he's ready to be that #1 guy, but #2C is quite reasonable.

    Okay, lets imagine for a moment JVR does settle in to be our #1C. Then for the next two lines we go with Kadri-Colborne-Frattin, and Kulemin-Grabo-MacArthur. Call those lines #2 and 2A. Many fans will say either Kadri or Colborne are not yet ready or need more development time. Some will even say they are not going to fulfill their draft expectations. Give these kids a chance to prove their worth. Thats why we got these prospects and it is obvious this teams needs to rebuild with youth.

  10. You may be right, leaferboy. I guess the other "solution" if Kadri does deserve a spot is a deal to move out incumbent vets....

  11. I like your breakdown, LeafsWire. Good stuff.

    The only caveat for me regarding Grabbo, is I'm not convinced he is my shutdown guy just yet. Until I see him do it consistently in big games against big-time opposition, he's just another nice number 2 centre on a very mediocre team.

  12. I guess I'm with you, TML__fan- let the kids play!

    We'd all love to have Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, Rick Nash, etc .. But we have what we have- some young guys who have shown they can play (Kessel, Grabovski, Kulemin, etc.) and some youngsters striving to prove they can- including those you mention above.

    Yes, I'm a bit reluctant on Colborne. I know people keep saying injuries was the reason for his modest performance at times, and I of course understand that. I guess I have seen so many players with "size" and potential not live up to all the advance billing over the past 50 years that I'm cautious whenever I hear that song again.

    But if he is what some project, all the better!

    Good stuff as always. Lots of food for thought in your comments. Thanks again TML__fan.

  13. I see Kadri as a center.

    If Kadri doesn't get traded this year, we will have much better idea of where he fits in than organization in less than a year from now.

    The reason for this is the astounding number of Leaf forwards with contracts that end this year and then these players go to UFA. The list contracts ending this year includes:

    Clarke MacArthur

    Yes, that't right Bozak will be a UFA at the end of the season..amazing for such a young guy!

    I doubt Conolly and Lombardi will be signed, unless they have stellar years and finally click on some line.

    I doubt they sign Steckel. Jay McClement is supposed to be good on face offs, is much faster and plays better defence and PK.

    They will probably try to re-sign Lupul and MacArthur...maybe even Bozak, but there is no guarentee that these guys will sign here. They don't have to that's what a UFA is...unrestircted.

    So maybe as many a six forward spots open up by the end of this year.

    If he doesn't get traded, Kadri could be anywhere on the top three lines. He could be centering Phil Kessel on the first line or on the third line with a guy like Frattin.

    We just have to wait a year or maybe less to find out.

  14. Well thought-out, DP. Makes a lot of sense. Thanks. (And yes, this all hinges of UFA possibilities and whether Kadri is in fact dealt at some point...)

  15. Great Post !

    Gave me lots to think about. Kadri development hasn't been too bad. Sure they put too much pressure on him a couple seasons ago but last year and especially the playoffs led to what I think is a more mature player.

    The Leafs with the acquisition of JVR have too many wingers and I think the JVR at centre thing serves two purposes - One to get the MSM off the leafs back (regarding a #1 centre) and Two - to allow the leafs to get decent return in a trade of some of their excess wingers/forwards (lombardi,conolly, macarthur and kulemin) .

    The addition of McClement adds a lot of strangeness to the situation as well for surely to got we already have enough third line centres at this point (Conolly, Lombardi and Bozak). It suggests to me that Carlyle really dislikes this version of the leafs as is.

    Kadri with the current roster has no chance of making the team unless as a bench warmer/injury replacement. he is behind 6 if not 4 wingers who have more proven nhl ability at top six wingers. For Kadri it is 1st line centre or bust.

    The Leafs however do not have a traditional first line that is both defensively and offensively gifted. They have the offence part down but need to depend on great defense and goal tending to make up for a off the rush style offence. With that in mind the First Line will be (barring some blockbuster) will be a sheltered scoring line. They will face a lot of second and third lines of opposing teams while Grabo and McClement face the tough minutes. In that sense Kadri should certainly be able to hold down those minutes. In Fact if Steckel is given some of the shifts against the second lines of opposing teams - Our so called first line could face a lot of the opposing teams third line.

    As Burke said in the media a month or so ago - he sees JVR at wing and believes their will be a internal solution at first line centre. Everyone thought he meant the slowly developing Joe Colborne but I think your post has convinced me that he really believes that Kardi will hold that position come end of training camp.

  16. You laid it out very well, JD. Grabovski should be able to handle key minutes playing both sides of the puck. That may not be the answer in certain difficult regular-season contests or a tough playoff series, as I alluded to above, but during most regular-season match-ups he should be more than able.

    We have a ton of third and fourth-line players, for sure, including at centre. At some point Kadri's skill should prevail, and nudge the brass to give him a lengthy look (not just a couple of games) in a front-line spot.

    Thanks for chiming in on this one, JD.

  17. The problem for me is that putting Kadri on a line with Kessel means you have two guys who can be pushed off the puck on your top line. I think we need someone who has a little push-back in them for that top spot. Grabovski deserves the #2 line center spot... so that leaves a more defensive role for Kadri on lines 3 or 4. To date, that hasn't been his strong point. Maybe he'll surprise me this year, but I'd be looking to move him as part of a package for a bona fide #1 center..

  18. It seems that the average size of NHL players has increased since the heydays of Doug Gilmour’s best seasons, yet Kadri appears to keep up with the size ratio in the present day. That being said, isn’t it reasonable to think that Kadri could be effective as a centre? Whether he ever reaches the heights of Gilmour’s career remains to be seen, however, I do see some similarities. Both are creative and tenacious (and Doug was young once, too).

    As much as Kadri appears to be fodder for trade speculation (knowing that he has arguable league-wide value plus fan impatience accounts for much of this chatter) we just don’t know other aspects of his personality, locker room presence or other issues that may (or may not) be a concern for the team. I am also happy to hear that he is training with Gary Roberts… he’s a great mentor and role model for Kadri and I hope he ‘blooms’ under the tutelage of a player we all respect.

    It does seem possible that Burke may have to increase the value of Connolly and Lombardi in order to trade them by January, so Kadri may have to play with the Marlies because of his waiver eligibility.

    The offseason chatter about JVR moving to centre reminds me of an era where a large man named Sundin played on Gilmour’s wing until he was ready to move up the middle. I wonder if JVR has already done his ‘Sundin’ wing time in Philly and may soon be ready to take on that role. Seemed to work quite well with Sundin!!

    As much as I’ve considered Luongo and the cost to obtain him, I really like the character and potential of both Reimer and Scrivens. Secretly, I almost hope that Gillis keeps playing hardball and we have good reason to move on with our own guys.

    I also really like what Lupul has brought to the mix opening up opportunities for Kessel to have more options, but I wonder if he might (quietly) like to be in LA… His friends are there, he has a home there (and, apparently, a new dancing girlfriend). I’m not suggesting a trade (cause I’d like him to stay), but I could see Burke accommodating him, if the likes of Brown and Penner were made available. Perhaps Bernier might figure in, however, I’d rather let our guys have a chance to flourish.

    Lupul’s value may never be higher, though this may be more possible after the start of the season if any of the suggested principals are struggling out of the gate.

  19. That's a fair point on Kadri, Gerund O'. I've posted here often that I, too, think he is on the trading block, but as long as he is a Leaf, he has to play somewhere, at some point, eh?

    I don't know what his real weight is, but he appears big enough that he shouldn't be a "small" player. Whether he can handle the physical, grinding stuff is another issue.

  20. Lots of fodder for debate in your comment, InTimeFor62. The Sundin/JVR reference certainly caught my attention.

    You raise some very good points about Kadri. Where and how he fits we don't really know. It takes time for all good players to "become" what they really are and can be. I saw this with Lanny McDonald in the mid-'70s. It wasn't until he was well into his third season with the Leafs, at the age of 23, that he began to play like he did as a junior- and with the corresponding confidence.

    I like our young goalies, too- though it's easier to say that in the summer!

    As for Lupul, it's true, we need him on the one hand, but his value is high right now...

    Good stuff, thanks, InTimeFor62...

  21. I have to say, I completely reject the notion that Kadri is "too small" to play in the middle. It's a position that requires awareness, if anything. I mean, I pretty happy that nobody managed to convince guys like Doug Gilmour or Pavel Datsyuk that they just didn't have the size to fill the position.

    Sure, if you have a good player with size, it's a bonus. But no more than that. I don't think Leafs so much lack size up the middle, as we lack in sheer ability. Then there's Dave Steckel who is big, but seriously, how much is he actually taking advantage of his frame? For me, the whole issue with size and bulk sounds pretty 90's.

    I admit, I haven't seen Kadri play all that much, but his junior level stats suggest a certain level of playmaking ability to me. And he played center there, which is a pretty natural position for someone with playmaking skills. If he struggles with faceoffs or finding his wingers, then there is a problem. But not giving him a shot on the position at this point would seem pretty absurd at this point; after all, the kid was a pretty highly rated prospect. Just because he's a fairly slick skater doesn't mean he's going to be better off as a winger, where, after all, you'll be wrestling big defencemen in the corners much more often than you'd be doing it as a centre.

    In short, I have no idea whether he has what it takes to play the single, most demanding, skating position in one of the most storied franchises on the biggest stage of the game. Quite possibly not. But not giving him an actual shot at it would seem just unfair, and plain wasteful. We simply don't have the assets to make a blockbuster trade for someone like Ryan Getzlaf, so why not give a look at something that's already there?

  22. You said it beautifully, CGLN. I well remember when Dave Keon at all of maybe 160 pounds (different time and era in the game, I realize...) showed up at the age of 20 and won a starting job as a Leaf centre in 1960.

    Gilmour is the perfect modern-day example, along with yes, Datsyuk.

    Can't hurt to see if Kardi is comfortable in the middle.

    By the way, I agree that our issue is not so much a lack of size (though that can be a problem, for sure) as talent/skill. We have a roster full of third and fourth line NHL players.

    Thanks CGLN.

  23. I think even Gilmour played through a much more liberal set of rules than Kadri would have to play, today. Not to mention Dave Keon. The interference rule has made NHL much more accommodating towards smaller players, I think. And frankly, NHL has missed a loot of good players, historically speaking, while obsessing with size.

    Igor Larionov wasn't exactly useless when he came to NHL, as I recall. When he came over, overaged as he was, I don't recall too many pundits giving him a prayer; he was too small, too soft, too old, too whatever. But he was a fine player still. Had he come over something like five years earlier, he'd probably have been a dominant playmaker in the league.

    It's not like we have something to lose by giving Kadri a shot at this point. We're not contending, we're not even in the cusp. We have a losing team that is in desperate need of creativity. Giving the kid a shot doesn't seem desperate at this point, just reasonable.